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New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "Weight Watchers" by Thomas McGuane

Each week I review the short fiction from a recent issue of The New the hopes that it balances out my otherwise neanderthal tastes. 

Issue: Nov. 4, 2013

Story: "Weight Watchers"

Author: Thomas McGuane

Plot: A young-to-early-middled aged man's overweight father comes to stay with him while he's on a break from his mother, who has insisted the father lose weight or not come home. The visit causes the young man to re-examine his parent's occasionally-functional marriage and the ways his parents forced him to take on a lot of their emotional baggage. The young man describes his father as a ruddy, man's man type and his mother as solidly bourgeois and though they gave him a comfortable enough life, he is determined to stay single and never get emotionally involved with anyone.

Review: Kind of an odd turn for Thomas McGuane, although the story is still set in Montana and features a character who is outcast or broken in a comical way. The main character is someone whose situation would seem otherwise completely normal, but something within himself, some obstruction in his personality, will not give way and therefore he remains stuck. The main character, in that sense, is pitiable.

What I think is most interesting here is the term "weight watchers." This literally refers to the father's need to reduce his weight. But it also refers to the way that the son has determined to watch his "emotional weight" by never getting romantically involved with anyone.

It's a thought-provoking message and it probably describes the plight of a lot of people who come from seemingly upright, functional backgrounds, and yet choose not to get married and/or have children. It takes a lot of courage to love someone and to have children, but at the same time it also takes courage to go through life alone without those relationships. However, it would seem that the latter choice(s) carries with it a higher emotional cost.

There are some brief moments where the McGuane shines through here, but to me it seems like a rushed job. It doesn't have the carefully-wrought characters or the poetic quality that I'm used to from McGuane. I wasn't crazy about his last NYer story either, and I'm less crazy about this one. There's a good kernel of something here, I know that. But it strikes me that the story would've benefited from a few more times through the wringer.


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